London, March 2016
We arrived very tired, since it is hard to sleep on the plane. We never like to go to sleep during the waking hours of where we arrive, so we tried our best to stay active and awake. Our first activity was a double decker bus tour. There are several around, and it was nice to get a lay of the land while sitting back. They also have ear phones that you can plug in to hear the tour information. We went to bed early, and hoped to get an early start the next morning.
Parliament – Check to see when tours are available. You cannot tour it when Parliament is in session. We were able to get a guided tour on a Saturday, and it was very interesting and informative. Our teenagers did not LOVE it, but they stayed engaged. A lot of moving around and walking. I think this kept our children’s interest. The building is beautiful to look at, and the history of everything was fascinating. This ended up being my favorite activity.
Restaurant – The police officer who was at the exit of Parliament, suggested the Marquis of Granby pub and restaurant. He said we would, “not be disappointed,” and we were not.
Westminster Abby – We are Episcopalian, so attending a Church of England service was a treat. Even if you are Episcopalian, attending this church service may be enjoyable. The 10:00 service is mostly all sung by the famous Westminster Abby choir, so if you are uncomfortable with going to a church that you are not familiar with what to do, this is the service for you.
The London Eye Ferris wheel – A great view of the city. There is no need to do the “fast pass.” It looked crowded, but we got through the line pretty fast. 21 pounds, or 31 pounds for the “fast past.” For those who do not want to go, there is a café with food and beverages, including a Champagne Bar.
Victoria and Albert Museum – This is a very impressive museum, which you could spend a month in to see everything. From jewelry, to furniture, to sculptures, stain glass, paintings, and more, you will get a lot of enjoyment out of this free museum. They have some interactive things to do, such as create your own family crest on the computer, and your own stain glass design, which my teenagers really enjoyed. There is also a really good café, with a lot of stations and eating choices. I highly recommend this museum to anyone.
Windsor Palace – Fun place to visit. You learn a lot about Queen Victoria and her husband Albert. You visit their private apartments, as well as a couple other royal couples. The most elaborate one is the King’s Apartment, so I would do that last. While There is also a special exhibit going on right now with fashion from Princess Diana, Princess Ann (the current Queen’s sister), and Queen Elizabeth. Fun to see old pictures of Princess Diana, and her actual outfits. You can tour the outside gardens, which includes a Princess Diana memorial. Their café is just okay. Very expensive for adults to get in, but children 15 and under are free. A great place to take a picture is in front of the elaborate gate.
Harrods – This famous department store did not let me down. Being from Dallas I was not needing to purchase anything from the many designer options, so I went straight to the gift section. There are so many Harrods bags, bears, and accessories to choose from, that I had a hard time deciding. A great place for fun souvenirs and gifts. Also if you love shopping and live in a city that you cannot see all the great designer clothing, china, cosmetics, fragrances, etc… then you will be in shopping heaven!
Oxford University - Monday we went to visit Oxford University. I pictured us walking around the campus, like you would any other university campus. I naively did not realize all of the amazing things that they had to offer. They have organized tours of all sorts, and activities that could keep you busy for a few days. We bought tickets for a bus company called CitySightseeing Oxford Hop on Hop Off, where you could hop on and off all day. They had a map that gave you information on what you could get at each stop. For example, we started at Stop 3, which had a lot of restaurants. We then went to Stop 7, which was Christ Church, which was not only a beautiful church to look at, but had an art museum with traditional religious art. They will give you a list of places to go, and you can see what interests your group. I would say the highlight of our tour was seeing the dining hall that was the inspiration for the Harry Potter movies. I was holding out to go to the University bookstore, picturing it like a huge bookstore in the states, with sweatshirts, etc… However, there were just books, and a small selection of fun apparel and logo items. I suggest finding any other store close by for a bigger selection of logo items.
Tower of London – From crowned jewels, to seeing where Henry XIII kept prisoners, such as several wives before they were beheaded, I highly recommend putting this on your list. We reluctantly took a tour at the beginning, and we were pleasantly surprised at Dave, our very fun Beefeater tour guide. He was very animated in telling us everything that was on site to see. You could spend a lot of time here, and I think every moment of it was worth it.
Westminster Abby Verger led tour – A verger is a lay minister of the church. He is always extremely knowledgeable, and at a church as important and famous as Westminister Abby, he gave a lot of history about the church, and the interesting people buried there. If you are not familiar with European churches, know that in the old days, wealthy people paid a lot of money to have a space to get buried in nice churches. Often it is a side room with a sort of shrine to the person, or sometimes a spot in the middle of the church. We were most surprised to learn that Charles Darwin was buried in this church. This is the church where coronations are held, and where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married.
Churchill Museum – If you have ever visited a presidential library, think of that, times five. The Churchill Museum has the original rooms where Prime Minister Churchill and his staff hid out and worked during World War II. In the middle of the 30 Audio Tour stops, there is a museum, which is so detailed, you may not retain all of the information. You could visit this spot several times, and learn something new each time. There are some cool high-tech and interactive things that my sons enjoyed. I will say that I wish that was the only thing that we did that day, because it was great, but mentally draining.
My son is a huge soccer fan, so my husband was lucky to get tickets to an important Liverpool (his favorite team) game. He and my son took a train to Liverpool, and my dad and step-mother went with them, so they could take a Beatles tour. My husband is not a huge Beatles fan, but he said it was interesting to get a tour. That left me with my two younger sons to do what we please. My middle son is a “sneaker head,” so he located every Nike in London, and begged to go. I thought this would be a good day to do it. We went to NikeTown, which is the largest Nike store in the world. He did not find anything unique, but I think it is cool that he got to see the largest Nike in the world. Luckily for me, NikeTown is close to a well-known department store called Selfridges. Both are on the Oxford Circus street.
Selfridges – An historic department store that I was so glad that I saw. It is not quite as nice as Harrods, but still very fun to go through. A lot of designer clothing, but more affordable ones too. Two of my sons and I spent some time in the large chocolate section. They gave out amazing samples of chocolate, and we ended up buying some delicious chocolates and macaroons.
Hampton Castle - This took us a little over an hour to get to by train, but it was worth it. I have read the The Other Boleyn Girl, and seeing where Henry and all of his six wives spent most of their time, was really exciting. The elaborateness and beauty of the castle and the grounds is what you picture when you think of a castle. I would definitely put this on my list.
Buckingham Palace – We did not get to tour inside. If the Royal family is currently residing there, it is not open to the public. (They move from castle to castle.) However, it is worth going to the front of the gates to take a picture, and see the balcony that they wave to the people from.
Windsor Palace – A castle that the Royal Family lives in part of the year. This will not disappoint if you like castles. Very elaborately decorated, you can see where Queen Elizabeth hosts various important dignitaries from around the world. They also have a cool doll house that one of the queens was given as a gift. It is a replica of the palace.
Small things to note if you visit:
• We took the subway everywhere, and in the subway stations are a lot of escalators. Escalator etiquette in London is stand on the right side if you are going to ride it without being mobile. People on the left side will walk up or down.
• Tip around 12% in restaurants.
• At restaurants, they will not take your drink order right away, bring your drinks, and then come back to take your food order. They will delay getting to the table, and will take them both at once.
• I was very surprised that men and children did not offer their subway seat to ladies. There was a woman who offered her seat to my step-mother. I thought that was very impressive. If you have children with you, I think this is a great teaching moment in telling them to hop up from their seats, if ladies or older people get on the subway.
To our surprise, the Indian food is what London has become known for. Ask around your area to see what people suggest. Being with three non-adventurous children when it comes to eating, I do not have a lot of great restaurants to recommend.
The two places that I would suggest is:
Dishoom; 3 Stable Street; London; NIC 4AB; 02070420-9321
It is amazing Indian Food in the King’s Cross area. It tooks us 3 times to get in. It was an 1 ½ hour wait the first two times. We finally got smart and went at 5:00 pm. We were lucky to get in at that time. Apparently it is the hot spot to get Indian food!
The second place is Grain Store. It is next to Dishoom, and so we went there because it was the only choice next to Dishoom. We saw the menu, and had to read it and re-read it for something that we liked. It is super healthy – all organic, a lot of vegan, etc… I tried the chili, and it was amazing! My husband, dad and stepmom all loved what they had too!
Accommodations: My father and step-mother always rent an apartment from this website: https://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p1131362
We have always had a great experience with them.